How to support your child while traveling to a safer place
Having to leave your home in search of a safer place due to war is incredibly stressful even for adults, so just imagine how difficult it is for children. To help your younger family members better deal with this event, UNICEF experts in Ukraine have come up with the following recommendations:
- Tell the child about the road and the reason for the trip. If possible, talk about where you are going and why, even if you don’t know for sure. For example: “We are going to look for shelter and a place where it will be safer.” Talk about the direction you’ll be taking, the cities you’ll be driving past – this will help the child regain a sense of certainty and control over the situation.
- Provide a sense of security and connection. Offer to bring along their favorite toy, thing, object. This can distract the child, and in addition, favorite things give children a sense of connection to their home. The child can hug a toy when they are scared or sad – it will help them calm down.
- Go over the rules of the road. This is important from a safety standpoint. For example, when you stop at checkpoints, the children should know that they need to behave quietly, do not look out the windows and in any case do not get out of the vehicle.
- Monitor the child’s condition and respond to their needs. It is important from time to time to ask if the child wants to eat, drink, or go to the toilet. To check the child’s reaction and keep in touch with them while on the road, you can come up with a code word for a kind of “roll call” (for example, you can play a game with toddlers and small children by saying something along the lines of: “When I say ‘too-too’, you respond with ‘shhhh’” ).
- Stabilize their emotional state. Certain sounds and bodily movements can help a child cope with emotional stress. For example, when the child feels anger, get them to extend their arms, clench their fists, close their eyes tightly, and then open their palms, shake their hands, and open their eyes. Repeat this little exercise several times. Tell the child to snort or roar like an animal, to sing the sound “Aaaa” or “Oooo”.
- Help your child cope with fatigue. The road is exhausting, and sitting down for long stretches of time can make your limbs go numb. Patting the body will help to improve circulation (this can be done by the child and an adult who is nearby). To divert the child’s attention, invite them to play games: to tell each other riddles, to play word guessing games, or try to name words beginning with a certain letter.
- Take care of your own needs. In order to take proper care of your child, you need to take care of yourself first. Control your breathing and stay aware of your body’s needs. If you can, let yourself rest. To de-stress and re-energize your body, you can, for example, massage your earlobes or take a slow drink of water.
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